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The Ethical Heart of Web Development

During a meeting with our project managers, we walked through the ethical obligation of working on a project we believe is doomed to fail.

If a client comes to us with an idea for an app they would like us to build, and a budget appropriate for their app, should we build the app even if we personally believe the app concept will fail? Should we take the money, shut up and do what they want? Or are we obligated to warn clients about the potential danger of moving forward?

An allegory came out of this meeting that we believe offers some guidance.

Imagine we aren't web developers. Imagine instead, that we are boat captains, and we are responsible for taking travelers to any destination they want to go. These travelers point to an island on a map, and we take them to their destination.

Suppose one day a traveler comes to us with a destination in mind, but we know that this island is a desolate, barren rock with no electricity, no freshwater, no communication, and very little chance of real survival. We've sailed past that island in the past. The bones of other travelers who had tried and failed to make a living lie scattered on the beach.

Should we, as captains, take the money, deliver the traveler, and head on our way? Or should we warn the traveler that this destination may put them in mortal danger, and potentially forfeit the opportunity for income?

Of course, the answer is obvious. We would be wrong not to use our hard won ocean experience and our knowledge of the map to warn the traveler that this destination may lead to their death. We are watching out for what is in the traveler's best interest. It's the right thing to do.

When clients share their ideas with us, sometimes they stink. Some concepts have very little chance of providing a return on investment, and would be a waste of time and money for the client. Could we be wrong? Sure! It's very possible that the metaphorical rocky spit of land is hiding a metaphorical gold mine. But we don't see too many of these, and the number of great application ideas with real market research and a solid plan to get ROI are relatively rare in our experience.

So how do we make money, while also keeping our client alive?

• First, we warn them about the danger. Let the client know that, in our experience, their application is liable to fail in its current state.

• Next, we go through a thorough paid audit and assessment phase with the client. This can help save months of headaches and tens of thousands of dollars. During this phase, we can work with the client to understand the market they want to reach, the minimum viable product that may bring a return on investment, and what the marketing footprint should look like for an app after it launches. To return to our allegory, this would be similar to showing our traveler photos of the island, along with photos of other islands that may provide a better living. They give the client the ability to forecast better, and decide, based on facts, to move forward or not.

• Lastly, if during an audit and assessment it becomes apparent that the application will likely not succeed, and the client decides to move forward despite our written warning, as a development agency we can ethically take on the project knowing that we have done our due diligence.

At this stage, we may decide not to do the project. If a proposed app idea looks like it has little chance of success, even after our recommendation and research, the client is likely hiring us for what we can do, rather than what we know. This sort of client would steal the rudder from us, and crash the ship, and we'll probably pass on the project.

Have you had any experiences like this in the past? What would you do? We'd love to hear your stories! Or if you have an idea that you want to talk through to see if there is any weight behind it, give us a shout: info@ethode.com | 888.336.3395 We'll always be honest and transparent with you every step of the way!

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